The burly man stilled when he heard about the scholarly man’s death. He gritted his teeth. The messenger was intimidated by the coldness radiating from him.
After a long pause, the burly man asked, “The army has been more and more agitated these days, hasn’t it?”
The soldier nodded. The burly man’s eyes grew murderous. He scoffed and told the soldier to pass down his message. The soldiers were to stop listening to Ji Bo’s orders. The messenger was then told to write a letter to the imperial city to tell the royal clan what had happened.
The soldier nodded in understanding. He left after giving the burly man a final, worried glance. The burly man sat on the divan, his eyes unfocused. In his tight grip was a pristine piece of white jade. It was the scholarly man’s favorite piece of accessory.
Disobedience spread through the Eastern Wu’s army like wildfire. Nan Xun, who’d been injured in the last battle and was in recovery, was surprised when he found out.
At noon, when he was applying medicine, he asked Jun Huang about it. She answered, “Ji Bo’s assassination of the scion was exposed to the royal clan. They became wary of him and ordered two officers to keep an eye on him. To their surprise, Ji Bo refused to change his ways and even killed one of the officers, which destroyed the last of the royal clan’s trust in him.”
“Moreover, Ji Bo has blatantly ignored the people’s needs, and he never treats the soldiers as human beings. It’s not that surprising for the soldiers to start something.”
“So the royal clan played a part as well?” asked Nan Xun.
Jun Huang shook her head. “The royal clan intended for the two officers to act as check and balance for Ji Bo. They didn’t expect Ji Bo to kill one of them. The two officers are as close as brothers. The surviving one ignored the royal clan’s orders and instigated the chaos.”
“A mere officer shouldn’t be capable of single-handedly turning the entire army, though. Ji Bo only has himself to blame.”
Nan Xun considered Jun Huang and smiled. “If Ji Bo cares about the soldiers like you do, they wouldn’t have been so easily riled up.”
Nan Xun’s train of thought went off track. He began to wonder how wonderful it would be if he and Jun Huang had a child together.
Jun Huang didn’t know Nan Xun’s heart was elsewhere. She contemplated if she should send people to escalate the tension. It’d be good if they could incite a civil war within Eastern Wu.
She told Nan Xun about her idea. He approved and authorized her to execute her plan.
Ji Bo had thought the ensuing chaos was merely a simple act of disobedience from the soldiers, but it was a planned move led by the burly man. He was furious. He hadn’t put a puppet on the throne yet. Everything in the world seemed to have turned against him at the same time.
The royal clan had received the burly man’s letter. It said that Ji Bo had killed a high-ranking officer with no good reason, which made the soldiers lose faith in the army. The royal clan was in a difficult enough position. Ji Bo’s defiance was the last straw. They decided to take away Ji Bo’s power.
Their responding letter to Ji Bo was vague, but Ji Bo knew what it actually meant. With a scoff, he threw the letter to the ground, his eyes flashing with murderous intent.
He hadn’t planned to completely take over Eastern Wu, but the royal clan defied him again and again. He was at the end of his patience, and he didn’t have a lot of options now. He ordered his men to storm the palace. They were to put their puppet on the throne, no matter the cost.
Eastern Wu’s court was seized overnight. All members of the royal clan were imprisoned by the puppet Ji Bo put in power. There was nothing holding Ji Bo back now. However, Eastern Wu had suffered one too many blows lately, which hurt the nation’s power.
Nan Xun seized the opportunity and attacked Eastern Wu with great ferocity. Not only did Ji Bo have to fend off Northern Qi’s advances, but he also had to resolve the conflicts within Eastern Wu. His hair turned grey overnight due to the stress.
The possibility of losing what he’d spent years building aged him significantly. He realized he still had one trump card - Southern Mu.
Southern Mu had been an affiliate jurisdiction dependent on Tianyu to survive. It wasn’t until Tianyu fell that the first emperor of Southern Mu claimed his title and established an independent nation.
Ji Bo jumped off his bed. His eyes shone brightly in the dark. The shadowguard keeping watch outside heard the noises and rushed in, lighting the lamp immediately.
“Is something the matter, sir?” the shadowguard asked respectfully.
Ji Bo nodded after a long pause. “I need you to deliver a message for me.”
Ji Bo sat at the desk and wrote a letter to Nan Jihan on behalf of Tianyu, asking for his cooperation to fulfill both their ambitions.
The shadowguard hesitantly took the letter. Ji Bo knew what he wanted to say. The guard had been the one to save him from Northern Qi’s army last time. Ji Bo felt a faint sense of regret, but the feeling soon faded away. After a pregnant pause, he patted the shadowguard’s shoulder. “There’s no room for failure.”
“Understood.” The shadowguard nodded and left the tent. He rode to Southern Mu at full speed.
Ji Bo wasn’t ready to sleep yet. He had a threat within the army to take care of.
He spent the night planning what he was going to do. When the day broke, he summoned a few officers he could trust. After careful planning, they decided to lure the burly man in. To catch a group of rebels, one must capture their leader first. Once they had the burly man, it’d be easy to deal with his goons.
The burly man had nothing to lose. He was ready to die to get his revenge. Although the royal clan had been taken care of, the burly man continued to spread news about Ji Bo’s exploitation of Eastern Wu, which further tarnished his reputation.
Ji Bo had no time to waste. He sent a group of ten thousand to chase the burly man down. They didn’t capture him, but all the rebels had been killed. As soon as Ji Bo relaxed his guard, the burly man came out of nowhere. In the chaos, he only managed to cut Ji Bo’s arm. He was then pursued by Ji Bo’s men to a cliff.
The burly man stared at Ji Bo and spat. “You think you’re so clever, Ji Bo, but you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. You killed him. I may not be able to kill you, but I won’t let you get the last laugh. Heaven will punish you for your deeds. What you’re doing now will amount to nothing. Hahaha.”
The burly man jumped off the cliff. Ji Bo trembled with fury and sent his men down below to retrieve the body.
They found what they were looking for. The burly man had been killed on impact, leaving no body parts intact. However, Ji Bo wasn’t going to let him off easily. He had his men prepare a ritual for the gods. The burly man’s flesh was used as tribute. Ji Bo would rebuild Tianyu one way or another.
His cruelty lost him some soldiers’ support. However, they were too intimidated to make any moves against him, lest they get killed before they could do anything and suffer the same fate as the burly man. There were also a good number of people who were won over by Ji Bo’s method.
Nan Jihan soon received Ji Bo’s letter. He stared at it, his brows furrowed. He couldn’t make a decision.
Noting Nan Jihan’s expression, the eunuch asked, “Is there something wrong, Your Majesty?”
Nan Jihan looked up at him and nodded. “The surviving member of Tianyu’s royal clan sent us a letter.”
The eunuch couldn’t believe his ears. Nan Jihan handed him the letter. His expression clouded like Nan Jihan’s had. The young emperor put his hands behind his back, pondering what he should do.
He was hesitant, but Ji Bo had made him an offer he couldn’t turn down. Nan Jihan had been looking for the imperial seal that was lost in the war that destroyed Tianyu. Ji Bo promised to give Nan Jihan the seal as long as he helped him fight Northern Qi.
With the seal, Southern Mu would be able to prove itself as a legitimate sovereignty. That was exactly what they had been trying to do. However, Nan Jihan couldn’t make up his mind to attack Northern Qi.
The eunuch had been with Nan Jihan for long enough to understand his hesitation. He tried to find a solution for his master.
“What would you do?” Nan Jihan asked before the eunuch could speak up. “If you were in my place, what decision would you make?”
“I would send the troops. Southern Mu has been belittled for being dependent on Tianyu for so long. Even after Tianyu’s destruction, it’s been a constant cause of contention that we don’t have an imperial seal to prove our legitimacy.”
“It’s unlikely for the man to lie to us when he’s in such a dire situation. Besides, he was the one to initiate contact. There’s a good chance that we can get the seal.”
Nan Jihan smiled wryly, his brows still furrowed. He wouldn’t have hesitated if he hadn’t been on friendly terms with Jun Huang and her allies.
Noting his reluctance, the eunuch sighed. “You’re the emperor of Southern Mu, Your Majesty. An emperor follows his head, not his heart.”
The eunuch dropped to his knees, making his unspoken words loud and clear with the gesture. After a pause, Nan Jihan waved a hand to dismiss him.
The eunuch was observant. Without a word, he left the room. Nan Jihan stood rooted to the spot. He read the letter over and over again. In the end, he decided to march out.
Nan Xun received the news not long after Nan Jihan deployed the army.